Why do leadership programs fail?

17 June 2015 - 4:36pm
The Boss by GDS-Productions on Flickr CC-BY-2.0 https://creativecommons.org/lice

Recently I re-read a fascinating McKinsey Quarterly article from January 2014, 'Why Leadership Development Programs Fail?' During my twenty-plus years as a Human Resource Specialist in government and large corporate organisations I’ve often pondered this same question. 

In my current role I am regularly in touch with executives from across all sectors. I wish that they’d ask this question more often. 

Australian and global organisations have heavily invested in leadership development for years. Yet we continue to read that “the capability gap for building great leaders has widened in every region of the world in the past 12 months...” and “ engagement and culture has skyrocketed to the number one issue around the world” and “only 31 percent of respondents believe their leadership pipeline is ready.” (Deloitte’s 2015 Global Human Capital Trends report) 

Shouldn’t this be ringing alarm bells for Australian CEOs?

A CEO’s role is to grapple with complex organisational issues. How to:

  • create inclusive, diverse cultures
  • foster leadership at all levels
  • build customer-centric organisations
  • create socially impactful organisations
  • increase the representation of women in leadership roles and increase indigenous employment

So with these significant challenges, why do CEOs keep on investing in things that don’t work?

And why do they invest in development that is so disconnected from these challenges?

This is why I joined Social Leadership Australia, where we work very hard to not make the same old mistakes that the McKinsey report talks about. At Social Leadership Australia we help people understand and use context; we plant reflection in the centre of exercising leadership; we never underestimate mindsets; and we look at what would be a real result, rather than a technical fix. I wonder what would happen if CEOs stopped buying standard leadership programs and facilitated these ways of working and thinking instead:

  • assemble leaders around their organisation’s most challenging issues 
  • have them work and learn outside of their functional roles 
  • authorise them to find sustainable solutions together 
  • let them really understand their world and themselves
  • support them to tackle real challenges for greater social and economic impact.

Would this approach produce very different results compared to their current leadership development programs?

In my experience, yes it would.

If CEOs were to take this approach, they may well create leaders with the capacity to work systemically and collaboratively while solving some of their most challenging business and social issues. They just might develop leaders with a greater sense of purpose, passion and curiosity. Leaders who change the way they conceptualise their world; leaders who enable leadership behaviours to emerge in others and leaders who have a more sustainable economic and social impact on their organisation. 

By altering their perspective and approach to leadership development, these CEOs could create a more inclusive, socially responsible organisation where their people can thrive. And a more successful one! 

Oh what a great place to work and a great world to live in that would be. 

If you are interested in knowing more about Social Leadership Australia and our customised and consulting work with organisations please contact us at 02 8262 3588 or contact Geoff Aigner at geoff.aigner@benevolent.org.au or Julie Ahern at julie.ahern@benevolent.org.au.